Brooding On

Simple Tips for Curbing Your Food Waste

So, if you read yesterday's post, you know that the average American household tosses about 14% of its food.  Here are some ideas we try to employ so that our household percentage is much lower that that . . .

1.  Make a meal plan -- If you know me at all, you had to know this one was coming -- I'm definitely a planner.  We've all been there:  the recipe calls for fresh cilantro, but it comes in a bunch.  So, once you've made that salsa, the rest of the herb bunch just sits in the crisper drawer until it eventually finds its way down the garbage disposal.  Be proactive.  Plan your weekly menu so that there's minimal waste.  At our house that might mean that we have Mexican food the same week we have potato salad because I know that we won't use all of the sour cream with our tacos, so I'll have just enough leftover to make the potato salad later in the week.

2. Plan meals that keep well as leftovers -- Interestingly, this may also keep your meal plan a little healthier.  We all know that fried foods don't store well -- that's how you justify eating just one more piece of fried okra, right?  "It won't be any good tomorrow!"  If fried foods aren't a part of the meal plan to begin with, then you won't have that moment of horrible guilt involved with chucking all the leftovers down the disposal.

3.  Buy the amount you need -- "Oh, this new variety of kale is on sale if I buy the big bag!"  Hmmm.  It's not a great deal if some of it is likely to go bad before your family can eat it all.  This is not really the case with non-perishables.  If your favorite brand of whole-grain pasta is on sale in bulk, you snatch that stuff up!

4.  Stick with your plan --  This one has been a challenge for us at times.  If you plan to make a meal at home, don't make a spur-of-the-moment decision to do otherwise.  We've been guilty in the past of having some chicken marinating in the fridge but deciding to eat out.  Because of our schedules that week, we weren't able to get to eating the chicken in a time-frame that I felt was safe, so I had to toss it.  When you make your weekly plan, do so with your schedule in mind.  If, realistically, you probably won't have time to cook the spinach gratin you'd had in mind for Wednesday night, don't buy the spinach.  And, if you do buy the spinach, eat the spinach (and not a bean burrito at the local Mexican restaurant).

5.  Consider serving items separately -- I have a great pasta salad recipe that my entire family loves.  The only problem with it, though, is that it has spinach in it.  Once it's all mixed together, we have to eat it all since the spinach won't store well once it's dressed.  Finally, I discovered (and, yes, it took me longer than it should have) that if I served the spinach alongside the rest of the salad, so that it's added to each plate rather than to the salad bowl, I can store the leftover salad and the leftover dry spinach separately as leftovers: problem solved.  This technique could be handy with lots of salads and perhaps some other dishes as well.

6.  Effectively store leftovers -- Obviously, this means that your storage containers should actually do a good job of keeping food fresh for awhile.  But, it also means keeping food visible and easy to access.  I love my Pyrex glass storage containers because they are clear, make items easy to identify, and can be microwaved.  If you don't know what's in a container, you're not likely to grab it for a quick snack.  Also, consider storing food in serving sizes.  My oldest two kids are old enough to work the microwave on their own.  So, I trust them to grab an individual serving of last night's man-n-cheese out of the fridge and reheat it.  I DO not trust them to pull out the 9x13, get down a bowl, scoop out a decently-sized portion, and reheat it.  The easier it is to get the food from fridge to mouth, the more likely it is to be eaten.

7.  Have a "makeover" plan for leftovers -- If we only have one or two servings of something leftover, we will just stick it into the fridge.  But, if we've made so much that we can eat it again, it either needs to be brought back to the table for an encore or it needs to be reworked.  Maybe last night's pork becomes tonight's barbecue sandwich, for example.  This is an especially good plan if one of the people you're feeding is "anti-leftover."  It sounds terrible.  I'm so glad we don't have any of those eaters at my house, but I do know they exist.  Just dress last night's dinner up as something else, and they'll be none-the-wiser.

8.  Build in a day/meal for "fending" -- I do not cook (at home) on Sundays. This is the day that we "fend."  Growing up, my mom would use this term to mean that we were all just fending for ourselves.  So, Sunday after church, all the leftovers from the week are pulled out of the fridge and laid out buffet-style on the kitchen counter. First come, first serve- everyone gets his pick of favorites from the week.  If we did not allow this buffer day in the weekly menu, there would be lots of leftovers that would go untouched and have to eventually be thrown out.

9.  Produce your own food -- Obviously, there are lots of reasons to grow your own food, but a desire to waste less is definitely on the list.  I dare you to try to stuff chicken you produced in your own yard down the garbage disposal, guilt-free.  It's not going to happen. You will do your darnedest to be sure NONE of that chicken (or lettuce or milk or  . . . ) goes to waste.

10.  Feed an animal -- Even if it's just your dog, feeding leftovers that are maybe a day too-far-gone for human consumption is one way to avoid waste.  Sure, you may not be eating it, but it's at least saving it from being added to a landfill and saving you the cost of one of Fido's meals.  Do one step better and feed your leftovers to an animal that will in-turn feed you, such as laying chickens or a backyard dairy goat. If you have no animal to feed (or a finnicky one that will only eat his favorite brand of chow and turns up his nose at your kitchen scraps), consider starting your own compost pile.  The scraps may not be making it immediately to your mouth, but once you've used the compost on next year's garden, it'll get there!

Got any other tips for avoiding personal food waste that we could add to the list?